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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, February 2, 2022 – An online letter to the editor at Paulick Report last week spurred memories of something we wrote about years ago.

Hopefully, the following won’t become the place where a possibly good promotional idea for racing goes to die. And I can’t even take credit for originality.

“Smart Bob” from Saratoga conjured this years ago and we wrote about it then, thinking it was an interesting idea and one that continues to have merit now given the modern horse-playing landscape.

A common complaint one often hears when the subject of how to attract new fans to the sport is that racing should learn to promote itself in a brand new, hopefully better way, particularly now with the competition that accompanied the advent of legalized sports betting.

In the world of technology, where there’s an app or an algorithm for everything, something different is needed to attract younger people who don’t mind a little thinking to guide their wagering.

And what could be more challenging and potentially more rewarding than handicapping Thoroughbred races, especially since that high-risk, high-payoff horizontal wagers now dominate the betting space?

The letter referenced was from a transplanted Australian now living in the U.S. who has maintained his love of Thoroughbred racing, mentioning how younger generations got engaged in “social horse-playing” in his native land.

The author said while only a handful of his friends followed racing regularly, a large contingent would get together with their mates for the occasional “weekend quaddie,” Down-Under-speak for Pick 4, at the local pub.

Nearly a decade ago my mate broached the idea of a National Pick 6 wager every Saturday on the best races the sport had to offer. Those stakes would need to be drawn 72 hours in advance so that the public could bet on the sequence for three days. A monetary bonus to incentivize engagement would help, too.

The editorial writer believes, as I do, that this bet’s best chance to succeed has much to do with the prevalence of excellent media and digital platforms available today.

“The Pick 4 Power Hour” would be easily promotable via the NTRA. In the interests of winnability, the Pick 4 owns enough degree of difficulty to produce four-figure payoffs.

If the idea of a Pick 5 with potential five-figure payoffs is better, coordinated post times could have the entire sequence completed within an hour.

But keeping players liquid is needed to hold the audience; a weekly participation reward could be fashioned. Variations on that theme are already in place.

TVG, Regional, and Fox, Sports or some other network hybrid, has the capability to reach the largest audiences possible. The races should be as late in the program as possible, reaching the widest audience.

For optimum promotability and long term profit, the takeout on this unique wager should be 10 percent, 12 percent maximum. Offering the wager on one hub can help overcome disparate state confiscatory restrictions.

Track’s promotional budgets can help sell the notion of a unique national pool with rewards appropriate for participating tracks and their state. Of course, the pool should be made available to all existing ADW platforms.

This wager isn’t about the bottom line per se; it’s about a better way to introduce the sport to a new audience. If done properly, it will grow the bottom line in the long term. Think old-school Irish Sweepstakes only with three more races.

If races need switching to better facilitate timing because there were three stewards inquiries at one particular track, so be it;  selections for each race already are set.

Absent national rules, late scratches can be passed on judicially according to the rules in each state, or a new set of guidelines can be crafted governing this one special event.

Engaged fans know what racing’s problems are, and there is plenty of debate on how best to get a handle on them.

But this is one idea that looks toward the future. If you’re not improving, changing the way things done for the better, the world will pass you by. On that you can bet.

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24 Responses

  1. Just for the fun of it John, why not ‘bookend’ your P4 wager suggestion with P3’s as well?

    And for Dr. Disaster, here is an old tale from the Hempstead Golf Club located adjacent to a public riding stable still located nearby on Eagle Ave in West Hempstead that has an interesting Eddie Arcaro story associated from years back. Arcaro was playing as a guest at the club, and word has it that as he walked up onto a tee located next to the riding trail, Acaro politely commented over a fence to a young rider passing him that she might consider lightening up on the reigns as her horse was acting up a bit, and it would help the horse to relax more. The young rider simply replied to the unknown stranger, “What do you know about horses Mister? You’re only a golfer.”

    And another quick story comes to mind for the “Wordsmith of the West”, aka Indulto, a golf tale of a new Cadillac owner stopping for gas on nearby Peninsula Blvd. As the new vehicle and owner exited out of the dealership with only an eighth of a tank of gas, the new owner decided to play it safe and pulled into a full service pump to have the oil level checked as well. He reached into his pocket for some loose change to give as a service tip after the fill up, and the young man assisting him noticed in the handful of change there were several pointed wooden objects mixed in with the change. He asked the man what they were used for. The new Cadillac owner explained “Why those are tees son.” The youngster still confused next asked “What do you use them for Mister? The new owner simply replied with a smile, “Well son, you put your balls on them when you drive.” The young man stood in amazement and simply added with a grin, “Man you Cadillac people think of everything.”

    As I type all of this in friendship forward verse, I am in the background considering a derby future wager or two. My grandsons have called me Papa from early on, and on the couch next to me sits my Dockers brand Andy Cap style hat. The “Man you Cadillac people think of everything.” line above is leading me to wager two bucks in the futures on “Poppacap”. Maybe also a dollar exacta box with Slow Down Andy. Andy Cap and all. If it ever came in and I didn’t have the bet covered, it would be like for a few quarters more, failing to check the oil. Damned if you do. Damned if you don’t. Such is the life of an “Andycapper”.

    Have a great day my friends.

    1. Haha, awesome stories!

      For some reason I’m becoming a bit obsessed with the idea of finding info on that Eddie Arcaro’s Steakhouse on Rockaway & North Conduit. Considering the absence of info online about it, I might have to dig into the NYC DOB portals.

  2. Loved the stories, McD. You think of everything.

    Au contraire, no bookend P3s or anything. Just thinking of one, promotable super bet on national television at 5 or 5:30 Saturday, something like that.

    A sequence that takes an hour while imbibing a pint of two and throwing money into a Pick 4 kitty to see if anyone is walking around lucky, hence “social gambling,” getting people excited about something horse racing provides.

    But it needs to be different, special, free PPs online, a participation bonus, something, the “American Sweepstakes” with a Pick 4 to anchor it. Just spit-balling here…

  3. My three year old “Grifter” also likes “C’mon Man”. The “G” in Grifter also draws me to Mott and Gilded Age. The Gilded Age has me thinking of racing in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. Well before Servis, Navarro, and Baffert, aka “The Juice Men”. Turning the page and looking forward to a lasix free future. We need only to return the game to the past “Gilded Age”.

  4. P4 it is. An H.B. “Spaldeen” Pricci P4. Riders Up!

    I used to take my boys in their youth over to Belmont for the breakfast and tram ride through the barn area. We would stay only long enough for the first two races and I would simply have them comment on who looked good in the walking ring and post parade and why. Very often we came home with a few winning one dollar tickets allocated for ice cream later in the day. Never forget the day Nick Zito came over and tossed a football with them. He had noticed the boys andtheir friends on the tram ride as we stopped to view Strike the Gold. Now it is time for the grandsons and more ice cream.

  5. Sadly “The Juice Men” tarnished baseball as well John.

    I do have an “authenticated” ball signed by Gehrig and DiMaggio however, and my Mom was at It the Stadium on July 4, 1939, on Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day, when the longtime Yankee first baseman uttered the famous words at a home plate ceremony at Yankee Stadium: “For the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

    My wife’s Grandfather also worked as a mechanic for Otis Elevator, and his dauhter Patsy as a youngster would often get to sit in one of the dugougouts when her Dad had to repair an elevator. All the players knew her well and watched over her.
    She had a never ending collection of autographs, Amalfitano, Cronin, Dickey, Groat, and scores of of other National League and American League signed balls and players autographs.

    I was the opposite on collecting memorabelia. When I met Yogi Berra at a March of Dimes Golf Outing on Staten Island back in the early 90’s, I politely asked “Mr. Berra, I know that your autograph is worth money, but I would much prefer just to collect your handshake.” Yogi said in reply with a big smile on his face, “Do you know how refreshing it is to hear someone say something like that?”. I told him that I had shaken the hand of lunar module pilot Alan Bean some years earlier, and now there was but one desired handshake remaining on my list “The Pope” I added, “but I was still working on that one.” which drew an additional handshake.

  6. Gehrig and DiMaggio? That’s great. All I’ve got is a Navarro and Servis. Somehow I think yours might be worth a little bit more–and are great to have at any price!

  7. It will be hard to accept any props for the younger players if the mentioned sites only show the starting horses a few seconds before post time,no matter the vertical or horizontal bet. It is worse than picking up a pizza,chicken,steaks at a joint and the only thing you hear from the counter person is the price . Something Big is Missing. There is NO connection ! With these sites, showing race after race from several tracks, it reminds me of those older people addicted to the ‘One Arm Bandit’ machines where every few seconds you are sucked in to a ‘game’ . Is this how they all plan to attract new comers? PERSONALLY,i miss the exacta charts which were available when i played at the Farmingdale OTB,searching for who was getting bet with whom,besides the favorite. NYRA barely shows more than the others but still,it wont be enough,and yes,listening to ‘experts’ for 25 minutes between races is also annoying,,since most of them pick the favorites anyway ( not you,Rich Migliore)! Does a better trap exist? Don`t know about that, but at least make the offerings more interesting,informative,,by showing where the $ is going right before a start since it starts with going to the exacta ,and other gimmicks,Before the Odds come down . That,has not changed since my first bet in the mid 70s. No new comers will stay long in a blind alley; it will be suicidal,no matter how many ”Smart phones” or Credit cards they will carry until they will give it up like millions before them. They will be new but not that stupid or naive,after all,they got other sports outlets to bet on…

    1. All your points are well taken. Agree with your criticisms. But the shows on dedicated racing programs/networks place their emphasis on driving handle, not teaching anyone. The best information I find useful are the paddock reports, pre- and post- interviews, and physical appearance–good and bad habits/actors, etc. My thought was about promotions on a national scale; try to provide for for thought.

  8. A National Pick Four hum? Really? Think it will attract newbies to Thoroughbred racing? Think it will be a more attractive bet than a sport’s wager on a football or basketball game; will the chance of ‘cash’in’ be better?

    How about looking in a mirror and asking yourself how many pick fours’ y’all have cashed and just how deep in the red you are for trying to win a pick four over the years.

    1. i know a National Pick 4, per se, is not the answer. It’s a suggestion, trying to get younger people engaged nationally.

      Certainly, you understand “social gambling” or you would not go to OTB on a daily basis.

      I have an idea; make a suggestion that might help attract a new audience. We’re all waiting …


      MC D,
      Good to hear more merry musings from a man who IMO the Pope would most benefit from meeting.

      Once again your words of wagering wisdom are welcomed by this weary weekend warrior whose wallet is wilting under a steady diet of 5-horse West Coast stakes won by a “wascallY” trainer who is worshiped by wealthy owners.

      The final paragraph contains the most enlightening commentary on the subject I’ve read since the “impasse” was announced, but is Mr. Irwin merely speculating, or does he actually know who the obstructionists are?

      Reform will be a long time coming if horsemen are as reluctant to expose corruption as they are to expose cheating; especially the journalists among them.

  9. McD,
    Good to hear more merry musings from a man who IMO the Pope would most benefit from meeting.

    Once again your words of wagering wisdom are welcomed by this weary weekend warrior whose wallet is wilting under a steady diet of 5-horse West Coast stakes won by a “wascallY” trainer who is worshiped by wealthy owners.

  10. What seems to be overlooked or forgotten (because it is the truth, Alice) is that horse racing is about gambling, not the next stake race, nor the next super horse trained by Pletcher or Baffert; I know I have written this fact numerous time, but it flies over the head of turf writers as such is counter to their enthusiasm to promote the horse or trainer instead of demonstrating how a gambler on the horses can win consistently with simple win bets and solid ‘capping.

    Handicapping! What’s that? Reminds me of the commercial ‘Office’? What’s that? BTY, when is the last time any of you characters purchased the Daily Racing Form? So, what has the public been fed over the past twenty years? Exotic bets – vertical and horizontal. Bets that put grandmother on equal footing with most seasoned horse players, as both are now chasing la la land. Dime supers! Wow! Can Thoroughbred racing fall any lower?

    My suggestion? Start promoting how to win at the races by tossing all exotic wagers and treating all races everywhere as potential solid win wagers. Fat chance, I know.

    1. You probably won’t believe me but I would love that. Of course, problem is too many races with not enough horses for straight bets only. Tracks giving up exotics has less than a fat chance. You realize of course that exactas typically out-handle win wagers on a regular basis.

    2. $1.6 Billion wagered in New York state in it’s first month of legalized betting !!?!?!! Wow ! A new record,so far ,and February could surpass that,then March madness…and on and on. What s that G A number again !!😁😇

  11. Mr. Pricci: All that is needed is two horses in a race to offer a win bet. Most races have five or six plodders which, for the horse player who actually handicaps the race, is enough to look for a possible winner that just might pay 3-1 or more. With numerous racetracks operating daily, it is not difficult to find five or so races per day that fit one’s handicapping style; there is one catch though – you gotta purchase the past performances and spend a couple of hours ‘capping which eliminates most bettors who are basically lazy, dream of la la land, and fail to keep track of just how much money they have lost.

    Not sure that exactas out-handle win bets consistently. Do know one thing, though, exacta tickets are much harder to cash than a simply win ticket and most exotic bets tend to urge the bettor to bet against himself which pushed him/her further into the red.

    1. I d rather bet exactas with my Key horse boxed with 3-4 others and then úse the Key horse on top in straight triples in smaller bets. If the Key horse does not place then I would be all wrong. In better races, usually,the top 2 favs are the ones to use.,Separately or together.and that is critical to choose which one on top. Exactas remain my favorite bets.Anyone can see who the fav. is ,But, who’s getting bet with it ? Great clue to discern.

      1. You’re not alone, JG. Know three serious bettors who chart the exacta will-pays and wager accordingly.

        1. When I bet I check the PPs well ahead of post time for the Sole púrpose of concentrating on the ( Pk 3,DD and Exactas) board, But on television it’s not possible esp if they are showing more than one track. I would gladly pay extra to have one major N Y track and charts than two,three tracks and No info. My fast ink pens and my spiral notebooks is all I need, besides available betting $$.It is comparable to actuarial work=Just follow the( early and late ) money,,,,always with discipline,not emotion or * feelings*. Other than that,I follow,chart a semi automatic * spot* situation which may Only involve a couple of NY races daily, some days,like today, Saturday, one..Patiently awaiting for Belmont…….

    1. Hey Dan, thanks for the legwork on this. To be honest, thought the spread would be a little wider, but form held. Thanks again!

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